by Ken Loach
I was very pleased to be asked to take part in this discussion, and sorry circumstances mean my contribution will be so slight.
A number of factors combine to make these few years a critical moment in our history. Economically, socially and environmentally we are beset by problems.
Economically: capitalism has reached a stage where harsh competition on a global scale is demanding a level of exploitation of labour which would have been unthinkable a few decades ago. The so-called gig economy means job insecurity, low wages, regions left derelict, a harsh regime of cuts to social services, and in many countries the remorseless pursuit of neo-liberal politics of increased privatisation of public services, itself the cause of this deteriorating situation.
And all of this is in the affluent west. The international working class, whose exploitation provides us with cheap goods and food, is kept in poverty by a world order dominated by the interests of capital.
Socially, the corona virus pandemic shows how vulnerable we are to new illnesses that can spread across the world faster than we can find a cure. Our ease of travel and international trade, praised by those who benefit from it the most as progress, HAS turned into its opposite. It now means the deadly virus moves swiftly from continent to continent.
Environmentally, we know we have an existential problem. The planet cannot survive the continued use of its resources and provide a secure and sustainable home for all of its inhabitants. We are all familiar with the scientific evidence, we know the impending disaster is man-made, we know species are dying, the ice is melting, cities will disappear. And yet our political system is paralysed like a rabbit caught in THE headlights. A brave Swedish school girl is hailed like Joan of Arc come to save us, but patted on the head approvingly and sent back to school. Little happens.
If we do not confront the causes – or cause – of these problems, we really are in trouble. Imagining the city of the future can only be meaningful if we propose a viable future society that can answer these questions.
You will have guessed my diagnosis, I’m sure. It is the economic system that is the problem. It is the remorseless, inevitable and ruthless drive for profit by capital that is at the heart of the insecurity of the working class, their failing health service and the continued fatal exploitation of our natural resources.
The old analysis of the fundamental conflict of interests between the ruling class and the working class could hardly be more clearly illustrated. If we do nothing else, let us blow away the fog of propaganda that says ‘we are all in this together’ and insist on the necessity of the class struggle. Without class consciousness we cannot progress.
Then, when this urgent task is won, we can imagine the city of the future. Cities that retain all that is valuable from the past, on a human scale, with work, transport, the services we need for a good life, and place for the arts and learning.
I’m sorry to say that this is a fantasy until we have fought and won the battle for a new economy, based on co-operation, not competition. Freedom is not the free market, it is freedom from exploitation, freedom to live with security and fulfilment in a sustainable world.
Ken Loach, regista